Damn, damn, damn!
Over the past few days, Kizco hadn't slept very well. In his nightmares, the motionless face of a noble lady with a stern face and sharp eyes kept appearing. It was the same face he had seen again and again at his old work place, where he had pretended to be an apprentice. A look behind him told Kizco that his nightmare hadn't left him. In fact, it was closer than ever.
Getting rid of the police people had been easy. They were just commoners with fancy dress, so a few advanced maneuvers had thrown them off far enough for him to disappear. However, the woman had proven more resilient than he could have imagined.
With the same emotionless face as ever, the unknown woman continued her pursuit along the rooftops of the city. While Kizco made his way in as straight a line as possible, sometimes along the roofs and sometimes through the alleys, the woman often chose different paths. Sometimes, on long straights, his cultivator talents would widen their distance, but before long, she would catch back up again, always. From time to time, he would see other police in the distance or run into dead ends, which forced him into alternate routes. However, the woman seemed to know all the shortcuts as well as positions of the police and always used these detours to catch back up.
Annoyed, Kizco jumped a small gap between buildings, and this time the woman followed without pause. While he landed with a practiced roll, the woman's jump looked sloppy. Even so, she was still there.
Can't shake her. Can't keep going like this.
Whoever this woman was, she wasn't easy to get rid of. Like a scorned lover, she kept hanging on. At this stage, it was better to fight rather than try to get away. Once this woman was taken care of, he would have an easy time with the rest of the police. Thus, he came to a stop and turned to the woman, who also slowed and stopped some ten meters away from him.
What are you staring at? You're just another trophy.
Her breath was heavy, her hair messy and sweat had soaked her clothes, but her eyes were still sharp. As she observed his every move, she slowly backed away from him with a wary stance.
Too far away, he concluded, as he felt the cold iron inside his right sleeve.
At this distance, his knives could still land, but he couldn't guarantee a clean hit. Worse, even a woman would have time enough to dodge, so long as she retained a calm head. By all accounts, she looked calmer than she had any right to be.
Yet when Kizco took a few determined steps towards the woman, she stepped back in the same measure, never leaving him out of her sights. Again both came to a halt and stared at each other. And again, Kizco felt like he was about to explode.
Bitch bitch bitch! If you won't fight, then what are running for!? You're worthless!
She wouldn't be shaken, and she wouldn't fight. While she remained careful, she did whatever annoyed him the most. Like a file against metal, she slowly ground down his nerves. His gnashing teeth showed his frustration as his fingers grasped his knife ever tighter. After a few more seconds of stare-down, he could hear more shouts and steps approach in the distance. To his right, two police men rushed through the road next to the building they had squared off on. Both newcomers looked up at the confrontation between the spy and the unknown woman, and they were closing in fast.
Piss and bile!
After another wordless curse and a bitter face later, Kizco turned to run again. He couldn't take down the cowardly woman in a short time, but he couldn't just sit here either. At this point, his only option was to run, as useless as it seemed. This way, he could at least try to find a new angle of escape. With a huge vault, he jumped down from the roof where he would be easy to spot and rushed through the streets again.
For now the lady was still keeping up, but at least she had looked exhausted just now. A few more elevation changes and all the shortcuts in the world wouldn't help her keep up. Although she may have been in good shape for some common broad, she still was no match for him, a real cultivator. None of them were, he would show them. Again he sped up, as he glanced at the sun up above to orient himself. This time, his goal was towards the east, towards the river.
I'll just swim away. They can't keep up in a straight line, right? So let's go straight all the way. Maybe they found us on the island, but they can't have found our escape boat on the river.
Yet just as the river came into view beyond the wide roads ahead, he spotted at least half a dozen police were waiting for him along the shore. Together with them stood a man without uniform, but with a green headband. This was someone he had met before: On the day of the fire, he had stood behind and monitored the police on the bridge, and prevented their passage onto Chukru Island.
Damn. You all deserve death! Damn the south! Damn these ants!
Again! They had cut off his path again, treated him like a cornered rat again! He had no proof, but he was almost certain that the guy with the headband was a cultivator. There weren't many cultivators in the southern kingdom's employ, but all of them were elites trained by the last emperor of Medala, to oppose the righteous rule of Grand Ancestor Viribus.
In his condition, Kizco had no chance to fend off this challenger, not before he would be swarmed by the ants around him. Without much of a plan, he rushed into the next side alley and just continued to run. Once again, the best he could do was stay on the move and look for any chance at escape.
How dare they! You're all just trophies!
Frantically, his eyes darted around the surroundings as he sped past, in search of a way out. Yet even now, the fake noble woman was still on his heels. What sort of woman could run like this!
At last, he found a way ahead, a final chance to make a last stand. This wouldn't be a permanent solution, but maybe it would be enough to get the woman off his case. Once she was gone, he could slip away and hide out until night broke. Under the cover of darkness, the cultivators would still be a threat, but the mortal police would be useless. With renewed determination, Kizco sprinted ahead, and rushed into the building in his front. If they treated him like a cornered rat, he would act like one. Now he would show them his desperate bite.
While Antaya had studied maps of the area around the manufactory to make use of hidden routes, by now they had long left her area of expertise. Thus, she didn't follow the spy right away this time. After all, the house he had disappeared in was far too strange. Like every building on Chukru Island, the house must have been a new construction, no more than four years old. Yet it surely didn't look like one.
Looking around, this part of the island appeared to be a residential area for the craftsmen, with many houses of shorter height. Their outsides were each decorated with fancy woodwork and abstract ornation, something one would only see in noble districts in other parts of the country. The courtyards in front of the houses were each large, fancy gardens, good enough for all the master craftsmen who were so valued by the southern kingdom. Still, standing in row with other houses like it, the building the spy had fled into stuck out like a sore thumb.
Where most medalan properties were open, someone had built a fence around this one, high enough that it completely covered the sight into the front yard. Only through the open door could Antaya see the dead trees and dirty walkways of the former garden. Beyond it, the building itself looked poorly taken care of as well. Vines, just about the only thing to grow on the property, had burrowed under the paint and begun to explode the color off the walls.
Even the windows had been barricaded off with pieces of wood, as if the owner had tried to prevent a vicious invasion from the plant life around him. The entire house looked abandoned, and completely ruined the beautiful neighborhood around it. In the center of the house, the heavy door stood wide open to invite her in. Yet the darkness beyond made it look like the open maw of a beast, its evil nature ready to swallow her.
While Antaya was still sizing up the evil door, building up courage to enter, a ghost warrior came rushing towards her. With a frown, she asked. “Who lives in this house?”
Although the suspect had fled inside, there was little reason to rush for now. While he could hide out inside for now, their net would only draw closer and closer as time went on. Even if he barricaded himself, they could simply smoke him out. Thus, she took the time to wait for reinforcements and gather some more information on their battlefield. After all, she was sure she wouldn't be a well-trained cultivator's opponent in a fight, and there was no reason to take risks now. Plus, she was interested in the strange building anyways.
“Lady, this should be the house of Master Xander,” the warrior answered, concern both in his voice and his eyes.
“By that, you would not mean the same Master Xander who brought in the fake apprentices today, would you?” she asked back, as her concern mirrored his. Three days earlier, she had seen the foreign craftsman from a distance. He didn't appear sloppy at all, very different from his supposed home. Even so, the ghost warrior confirmed her guess.
“The very same,” he said.
As realization sank in, her face was drained of all color. This wasn't some random house the spy had just fled into out of desperation. Instead, it was the enemy's hideout. They may have planned and prepared for all of their illegal operations here. Inside, the spy could have all kinds of methods to make trouble for them, possibly even to escape and make today's operation fail.
The spy could use some method to warn his co-conspirators throughout the city of their actions, or he could order them to launch another attack somewhere in the city as a diversion. Who knew, there may even be a tunnel inside the basement, or they may have trained birds to carry north whatever secrets they had already stolen.
With a sour face, she looked behind, into the street. The exhausted police was still far behind them, and even once they would reach here, they would still be useless without a few minutes to catch their breaths first. Although she didn't like it, every second counted if they didn't want to risk failure at the last step. Color returned to her face as determination rose from her heart.
“We are going inside,” she said towards her subordinate.
“Yes, lady,” the ghost replied without a word of hesitation.